Businesses disrupted by the restrictions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic have adopted a range of cost-cutting measures in the UAE. These typically include salary cuts for employees on their payrolls. Faced with a sudden loss of income, individuals and families in the UAE can find the going tough to make ends meet and manage expenses.
We have put together a list of 15 tips from personal finance experts to help you budget your expenditure when faced with a pay cut. These simple steps, when implemented, will help you cut costs and cope with the situation better.
1) Renegotiate your rent or move to a cheaper accommodation
House rent is often the biggest outlay for UAE residents. If you are reeling under a loss of income, now is a good time to speak to your landlord about reducing your rent. Most families feel awkward to reach out to their landlord seeking to renegotiate their rent. But these are unprecedented times and you should initiate that conversation now.
If renegotiating rent doesn’t work, consider moving to a more affordable community or to a smaller accommodation to match your housing expenses with your tighter spending capacity
“Not only are a number of landlords being proactive in supporting tenants with rent holidays and lowered rents, rents are generally going down in various neighbourhoods. If renegotiating doesn’t work, consider moving to a more affordable community or to a smaller accommodation to match your housing expenses with your tighter spending capacity,” said Ambareen Musa, Founder and CEO of Souqalmal.com.
2) Monetise existing assets
You can sell some of your unused, branded goods lying around at home with no utility to generate some cash to tide over the crisis.
“If you have old devices – phones, laptops – which you are not using, sell these or if you have old handbags and luxury items, which you can no longer afford, sell them. This may not seem significant, but can provide some relief and help reduce clutter,” suggested Padmini Gupta, Co-Founder and Chief Executive of Rise, a UAE FinTech platform.
3) Manage the grocery bills
With a majority of people still staying indoors and cooking at home, their grocery bills have gone up significantly. While shopping for groceries, seek quantity over variety.
“Buying multiple items in small quantity is often the recipe for large bills. Bulk buy when you can. If you typically bought for a week at a time, buy for two and buy more of fewer items – that will help reduce your overall grocery bills,” recommended Gupta.
Buying multiple items in small quantity is often the recipe for large bills. Bulk buy when you can
Musa suggested that one should skip buying gourmet products, exotic fruit and vegetables and expensive cooking ingredients. “Stick to simple meal recipes that are easy on the wallet. Also consider buying the supermarket’s home brand items, which are usually cheaper than popular brand names,” she added.
4) Diversify your income sources
Try to look for new opportunities to supplement your income and to keep you afloat if you’ve been subject to a considerable pay cut. Several companies are looking for freelance workers to keep a lid on their costs.
“Be proactive on platforms like LinkedIn and Indeed, and tap into your professional network to find part-time or freelance work opportunities, starting with industries and sectors that haven’t been impacted by the crisis. Be sure to look into your current employment contract to avoid any legal mishandling,” Musa pointed out.
5) Buy used/second-hand items wherever possible
With several expats having lost their jobs, the UAE used goods market will be flooded with new listings. “You’ll be able to find some serious bargains on everything from cars and appliances to furniture and fittings. Some items may be brand new or in mint condition, so why spend extra on buying everything new from stores?” said Musa.
As the economy opens up, several business in the UAE are also offering discounts to help restart sales. Keep an eye out for such offers.
6) Reduce utility bills
Although most UAE expats typically travel overseas to escape the scorching UAE summer, it might not be possible to do so this year owing to reduced incomes and travel restrictions. Utility bills tend to peak during the summer months, particularly if you are living in a villa or townhouse.
“Many families are used to leaving town over summer – which may not be possible in these times. So if you stay back, ensure you don’t get a bill shock on excessive utility consumption. Saving on utility costs is not only good for the environment, but also for your wallet,” said Gupta. Follow the guidelines from your energy and water supplier.
7) Review your subscriptions, memberships
Often, multiple subscriptions can pile on the expenses. Use this situation to take stock of everything you’ve subscribed to or have a membership of.
“This includes TV package, magazines, mobile apps and so on. The aim should be to get rid of all unused subscriptions and downgrade all under-utilised ones,” suggested Musa.
Minimum monthly spend on gym membership
You can save a significant amount of money by choosing to work out at home rather than spend on your gym membership. “Gym memberships can cost you anywhere between Dh300 to Dh500 or upwards per month. Even the 3, 6 or 12 month packages can be a big upfront expense at this time. Instead, you could simply sign up for a fitness mobile app. So many popular apps are now offering extended trial offers and free beginner workouts,” added Musa.
8) Cook more often versus ordering in
The pandemic has seen more people spending time in the kitchen owing to more time on their hands and fears of infection by ordering takeaways. Cooking food at home is not only more healthy but also friendly on your pocket.
“Whether it’s cooking your own meals or brewing your own coffee, you will always be able to save if you cut back on spending at restaurants and cafes. It would be ideal to prepare a weekly meal plan so you know exactly what you need to buy and are not left playing the guessing game close to meal times,” suggested the Souqalmal.com CEO.
9) Change your phone plan
Phone bills are a significant expense in the UAE, with most expat households having families outside who they connect with regularly.
Take advantage of new plans from telecom operators to bring that expense down
“Operators have been aggressive in releasing new bundles every few months, which means that you could be spending far less on your communication than you have been in the past. Take advantage of new regulatory easing and new plans from operators to bring that expense down,” observed Gupta.
10) DIY wherever you can
Whether it’s baking your own bread, taking on minor handyman tasks at home, or doing your hair and nails yourself, try and go DIY (Do-It-Yourself) wherever possible. The Internet is brimming with DIY guides and there’s a YouTube tutorial for pretty much everything under the sun, suggested Musa.
11) Take advantage of visa waivers
Renewing residence visas is a significant expense for many families – especially if the company does not pay for it.
“The ongoing visa renewal waivers for those visas that have expired after the start of the lockdown may give you an option not to incur that expense now,” informed Gupta.
12) Restructure your debt
Banks in the UAE are offering payment holidays on credit card payments and mortgage installments. Avail of these waiver programmes if you have been subject to a salary reduction owing to COVID-19.
“If you have been a net borrower or have a significant portion of your income going into servicing debt, reach out to your bank today and restructure that debt. Without reducing your overall cash going towards servicing debt, it does not make sense to reduce current spending,” reckoned Gupta.
13) Swap your regular budget for a crisis budget
Make an outline of your personal income and expense statement. See how much you have been spending per month before the crisis hit.
“Were you a net saver – putting money away for a bad day - or a net borrower – borrowing from your future self (loans, credit cards, etc.,) to support your current expenditure,” said Gupta.
Start by stripping your budget down to the bare minimum. If you’ve had to take a pay cut, Musa said your regular budget would have to be replaced with a crisis budget, which includes your basic living expenses minus all non-essential and frivolous spending.
14) Put your big spending plans on hold
Now is the time to build on that emergency savings fund worth at least six months’ worth of expenses. If you don’t have one, start saving towards it little by little.
“While it’s hard to let go of projects you had been planning for a while such as a home renovation or a car upgrade, it is best to be cautious and conserve cash till economic conditions improve,” added Musa.
All other savings and investments can wait for now.
15) Beware of credit card debt
Several individuals swipe their credit cards to meet urgent expenses, but remember to pay back the amount in full or be faced with a heavy interest.
“Mishandling your credit cards and racking up hefty debt on these can make a bad financial situation much worse. The enormous interest rate on a credit card can dull the shine on its instant benefits and cause you long-term financial harm. Instead try and focus on lowering expenses as much as you can, to avoid resorting to debt to meet your expenses,” Musa explained.